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Bringing Canadian children in from the margins

Next year, 2014, will be 25 years since Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – a commitment to protect the rights of every child under 18.  After a quarter century, implementation in Canada remains a challenge.

Children are a significant part of the population, but there are few mechanisms to ensure a consistent focus on children in public policy formation across the country. Children’s interests are largely invisible, overshadowed by louder and more powerful adult interests in adult-oriented governments.

The majority of policy decisions have direct or indirect impacts on children. Policies often affect children differently than adults because of their age, status, and vulnerability to the actions of others. All of us want the best possible conditions for good childhood, but there are mounting examples of policy choices that have detrimental impacts on children.

To make children more visible to decision-makers – and make governance more child-sensitive – we need Child Rights Impact Assessments (CRIAs). Impact assessments are already used in a variety of policy domains in Canada, such as environmental protection, health, and privacy.

A Child Rights Impact Assessment is a tool for assessing the potential impacts of a policy, law, program, or particular decision for children and their rights. The impacts can be direct and indirect, short-term and long-term, and positive or negative. The focus is to understand how the matter under assessment will contribute to or undermine fulfillment of children’s rights and well-being. 

Is the use of CRIA a good option for Canada?  It is an emerging practice in other countries that warrants more consideration for use at all levels of government in Canada. We’ll explore this question at Bringing Children in from the Margins: Symposium on Child Rights Impact Assessment, May 14-15 in Ottawa. UNICEF Canada and partners are convening this event, where we’ll be joined by more than 130 Canadian policymakers and stakeholders with an interest in the lives of Canada’s children – along with representatives of government, Children’s Commissioners, child-serving organizations and researchers from more than eight countries who have been using CRIA and have lessons to share.

CRIA can be used by many actors in many fields of work.  They are of particular interest for government decision-making, because governments have the primary responsibility for protecting and fulfilling children’s rights, and many government decisions affect children’s lives. New Brunswick is the first government in Canada to start using CRIA, but there are other jurisdictions who have been working with tools to consider children’s interests that we’ll hear from at the symposium as well.

Almost 25 years have passed since Canada committed to ensuring children’s best interests are a priority and it’s time to put the mechanics in place to ensure it happens.   

It’s time we bring Canadian children in from the margins to put them at the heart of everything we do.

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